Distinguished Service Order (DSO), 4th Battalion “The Green Howards”
(Liverpool, 1920 – Orpington, 2018)
MBE, Liverpool Territorial Army, Royal Artillery
Major D’Arcy Mander was captured in Ain el-Gazala-Derna, Libya, on 1 June 1942, while he was commanding the IV battalion Green Howards. He was an expert officer, 33-years-old, and had already fought in France and Belgium; he spoke German, and, during his imprisonment, he learnt Italian as well.
After being imprisoned for a few days in North Africa, between Derna and Bengazi, he was transferred to Italy by plane, passing through PG 75, Bari, to reach PG 29, Veano, on 8 July. PG 29 was a camp intended for officers, and he spent there, in good conditions, the following 14 months.
News of the Armistice reached the camp on 8 September, a few hours before the official announcement, and was greeted with loud cheers by the officers. However, the Senior British Officer of the camp, Colonel Younghusband, instructed them not to move, waiting for the Germans to act. Two days later, fights erupted in the nearby town of Piacenza between Italians and Germans. As the Italian guards opened a way to escape, the colonel told his fellow officers that they are free to choose what to do: many decided to flee, leaving the camp right before the arrival of the Germans.
Some of the escapees decided to remain in the area, others to go towards Switzerland or Genoa (where the Allies were expected to land). D’Arcy, leading a small group, told them he wanted to march southwards:
I informed that I intended to walk down the central spine of Italy, first to Florence and then south towards the Line in the hope of encountering partisans or parachutists in the mountains and therefore be in a position to take advantage of any landings or the chance of a submarine or boat which might take a small party off. […] Bill Syme, James Marshall, Joseph Maddox decide to come with me. […] We must have presented a peculiar picture, in battle dress from which the red patches had been removed, army boots and great coats with each carrying a pack or parcel, and much else stuffed into our pockets
D’Arcy and his comrades marched «in the dark» in the Apennines, following less-beaten paths and avoiding villages and towns. Every evening the local farmers provided help, and the escapees, during their stays at isolated farms and huts, discovered that the poorest were often the more inclined to share what little they had. At the same time, the richest were usually indifferent and reluctant.
The “contadini”, were peasant farmers, eking a meagre existence in the mountain. They were unfailingly friendly and at appalling risk to their lives and property offered us food and shelter.
We always got something to eat and generally some bread for the next day. For shelter we slept in hay-stacks, cattle sheds, with pigs and donkeys.
We used to leave a note or a chit with the household so that when the Allies arrived they would know that these people had helped us.
One of the notes left by D’Arcy to the Gandolfini family, near Parma
(Fonte: D’A. Mander, Mande’s march on Rome)
During October, the escapees decided that their group was too large and that moving around had become too dangerous. Bill and James continued marching south towards the Abruzzo region, but they were the victim of an avalanche on the Gran Sasso. D’Arcy and Joseph headed towards Florence, reaching the southern slopes of Mount Giovi, above the town of Fiesole.
Here, D’Arcy met the men of the Action Party, who had organized a rescue network, and discovered that hundreds of former PoWs were now sheltered by the Italian population. He decided to help them manage guides and transport to bring these men south (as he would do in the Mount Morello area), as they represented a severe danger to those who were housing them.
D’Arcy also managed to reunite with his aunt Eillen, an active anti-fascist, who brought him to Villa Diana in Fiesole, where he met a group of Action Party members who provided him with counterfeit documents and planned his journey to Rome:
On 7th November I left Acone in a moto ambulance which I obtained from an organisation in Florence. I had with me about seven ex-prisoners of war and I intended heading for the British Line. We went to Rufina and Pontassieve. On the road of Arezzo we were ambushed by Germans and Italians.
After the arrest, the Germans loaded the prisoners on a train heading to Germany. D’Arcy decided again to try and escape. As the convoy was leaving the station, taking advantage of the darkness, he climbed down from a window and, with the paratroopers Playford and Hull, who had joined him, jumped down as the train was slowing while it was approaching the Prato station. Joseph, instead, decided not to follow him.
They went back to Mount Morello only to discover that D’Arcy’s aunt and the Action Party group had been arrested and sentenced to death (which was commuted to 30 years of prison; they were all released in the summer of 1944).
D’Arcy left the area definitively on 26 November with two new companions: a South African Jack Selikman and Sandy Stewart, who had escaped from the camp in Modena. Their idea was to cross the Allied lines, passing through Rome. On their way, they met other prisoners, who put them in contact with a Communist partisan band in Soriano, a village near Viterbo. Thanks to them, the three received assistance and a guide to reach Vignanello, where they took a train to Rome. Finally, they reached the capital, occupied by the Germans, on 9 December 1943: «we reached Rome safe and sound. Three officers wearing a jumble of clothing, who did not know anybody, with a grand total of two pennies between us.» As they were without contacts and badly needed assistance, D’Arcy decided to visit the Swiss embassy, where he met Robert Wilson, another escaped PoW. The latter put him in touch with Branko Bitler, a member of the “Bandiera Rossa” Communist movement, actively helping escapees and in close contact with the Rome organisation. Thanks to Branko’s network D’Arcy, Jack, and Sandy managed to find lodging at a house in via Chelini in the Parioli, where many escaped PoWs and Jews already lived. The Vatican priests brought them food every day.
However, D’Arcy was not satisfied with this accommodation, as he found it unsafe and asked to be moved together with his companions. The transfer never happened. Thanks to a tip-off, the Gestapo captured all the residents, except D’Arcy, who managed to escape. Branko, who was separated from the group, was tortured in via Tasso and later murdered in Forte Bravetta.
On losing my residence, my friends, my supply of food I had to stand on my own feet and for the next six months I lived and operated by relying on the people I had got to know during the via Chielini days and others I came to know later. My life during this period became extremely complicated.
I could speak German. I had studied the German army and I could recognize the badges worn by German officers and soldiers and could therefore identify units and be in a position to send information to the Allies. As I got around I met people who supplied me with all kinds of information. […] I didn’t want to hide and be walled up as some PoWs were, I wanted to be active and do something to help, and I was able to send a lot of varied information to the Allied and also to help less fortunate prisoners living in the mountains outside Rome.
One of the counterfeit documents used by D’Arcy in Rome. Here his name is Pietro Bartoli
(Fonte: D’A. Mander, Mande’s march on Rome)
During the following months, dynamic and willing to take risks, D’Arcy created his own network, intercepting German conversations, establishing links with a pro-Allies intelligence network, and proving capable of providing important information to the British to forestall the enemy’s moves. Moreover, he provided the Allies with a list of all Nazi agents in Rome. «In Rome, I was known with different names. For the VIII Army I was a generic “Volontario” [“Volunteer”]. For the clandestine group I was “Orso” [“Bear”] and for my friends I was Pietro Bartoli, or Dario.»
When the Allies entered Rome on 4 June 1944, D’Arcy hoped he could soon return home, but instead he was asked to stay and negotiate with German agents. He remained in uniform and continued his covert activities.
Before leaving the city, on 1 July, he transmitted a message on the Italian radio: «Mariel sta bene» («Mariel is fine»). It was the name of his three-year-old daughter, whom he had never met, as she was born after he left home. He showed her picture proudly to all who helped him during his escape.
I wanted to thank those brave people who had sheltered us and fed us on our journey. I wanted to tell them that their efforts had been successful in my case and many other cases, and encourage them to go on assisting prisoners still at large in the North.
Major D’Arcy Mander was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his counter-espionage activities. He served in the army until retirement, taking part in many international missions.
- D’Arcy Mander, Mander’s march on Rome, Alan Sutton, Gloucester, 1987.
- Malcom Tudor, Among the Italian Partisans: the Allied contribution to the Resistance, Fonthill Media, Brimscomb, 2016.
- The Yorkshire Regiment: <https://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/yorkshireregimentmander.htm >
 It was an organisation financed by Sir D’Arcy Osborne, British Minister at the Holy See, and run by Major Sam Derry, a British officer and a former PoW himself. Born under the tutelage of the Vatican, under the name of «Organizzazione Roma» it aimed, after the occupation of the city, to help Jews and antifascists, housing them in ecclesiastical buildings. Thanks to the Irish priest Hugh O’ Flaherty the organisation’s protection was soon extended to escaped PoWs..